By Carly Matthew
It’s salad season at your local farm. One of the earliest and most abundant greens this time of year, especially with this year’s cold, late spring, is spinach.
The magic of spinach is that it can “overwinter” – survive through the winter for harvest in the spring – even here in the Upper Midwest. Many farmers and gardeners in our area plant spinach in September and let it establish before tucking it in for the winter with a layer of mulch. After negative temperatures and months of snowfall, it always feels like a small miracle when it comes back in the spring. It’s like a gift from the earth.
In our case, it was also a gift from our mentor – lovingly planted last fall by Barb Kraus, owner of Canoe Creek Produce in Decorah. My partner, Ethan Zierke, and I launched our small vegetable farm, Sweet Season Farm, just this year. Kraus decided to take a step back from her own production in 2022, growing fewer crops and focusing her energy on creating an “incubator farm” opportunity for new farmers – access to land, equipment and tools, and to help young farmers get started on the right foot.
Given the cold, wet spring, we weren’t able to start many vegetables as early as we planned. We did, however, have lots of spinach.
My favorite recipe to make this time of year, when I find myself with an abundance of spinach and other fresh spring greens, is palak (“spinach” in Hindi) paneer, a delicious Indian curry served with rice or naan bread. Make a vegan version by adding coconut milk instead of heavy cream and tofu instead of paneer.
This recipe comes from blogger and author Manali Singh at CookWithManali.com. It calls for optional sugar, but since overwintered spinach is the sweetest spinach you’ll find all year, I doubt you’ll need it!
12 oz. fresh spinach
1 medium tomato
5 large garlic cloves divided, 3 whole and 2 finely chopped
1 inch ginger
1 green chili
1 TBSP oil
1 large onion finely chopped
1/2 cup water or as needed
3/4-1 tsp garam masala
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1/4 tsp red chili powder or to taste
Salt to taste
2-3 TBSP heavy cream or adjust to taste
1 cup paneer cut into cubes
1/2 TBSP kasuri methi crushed (dried fenugreek leaves)
1. Blanch spinach leaves in boiling water 2-3 minutes until wilted.
2. Remove and put them in ice cold water to retain green color.
3. In a blender, add the blanched spinach along with tomato, 3 cloves of garlic, ginger and green chili. Puree to a smooth paste and set aside.
4. Heat pan on medium heat. Once hot, add oil and then add remaining 2 cloves of garlic.
5. Add the onions. Cook for 2-3 minutes until soft and translucent.
6. Add prepared spinach puree and ½ cup water and mix.
7. Cover the pan and cook for 10 minutes on medium heat. The spinach will bubble a lot. Stir at regular intervals to avoid sticking to the bottom.
8. Add the garam masala, turmeric powder, red chili powder and salt. Mix and cook for 1 minute.
9. Add the heavy cream and mix.
10. Stir in the paneer. Simmer for 3-4 minutes. Take off heat, add lemon juice, kasuri methi and mix.
Serve palak paneer hot with naan or roti or rice.